If there's one thing most meeting coordinators can agree on, it's that you need an agenda. If you go into a meeting without having a clear direction, it's just going to end up wasting everyone's time. The challenging part is that the difference between a good and a bad meeting agenda can be very subtle. Here are a few different examples to help you identify the differences between a good and bad meeting agenda.
Seeking Team Input Versus Building Your Meeting Around Team Input
Seeking input from team members is a wise thing to do. They may be more cognizant of things that are happening in your business than you are, so listening to their feedback could provide some worthwhile discussion topics. Additionally, if your discussion items reflect the thoughts of your staff, they are more likely to be engaged.
However, if you take every suggested topic and make it a part of your meeting, you could end up killing productivity. There needs to be a solid reason for things to make it into your meeting agenda. You should still take a moment to explain yourself if you ask for feedback and choose not to bring it up at a meeting, but you can't let team input run the entire show.
Deciding on a Course of Action vs. Just Discussing a Topic
If your team members don't know what's expected of them when a discussion is taking place, their responses will tend to fall on the more tentative side. Is their input needed? Does a task need to be assigned or delegated? Does the subject matter need to be filed away for later?
If there are no further actions to be taken, why does the topic need to be discussed? There are times when a team needs to put their heads together to come up with ideas, but if there is no resolution to be had in the moment, the conversation needs to be set aside. Make sure your talking points are as actionable as possible.
Acting on a Plan vs. Suggesting a Plan
It may be a subtle difference, but it can be a meeting killer. If you're merely suggesting a plan, you will probably find yourself saying things like, "I'm thinking about discussing this topic at the next meeting. Could you prepare for that?"
It's a good thing to put some thought into your agenda, as well as encourage your team members to prepare for the upcoming meeting. The problem is that you risk sounding "willy-nilly" in your approach, and no one knows if you're actually going to be raising the suggested topic at the meeting if you're still thinking about it. Why would they prepare if they're uncertain?
Asking for Feedback vs. Opening Up the Floor
There are times when you need to open up the floor instead of asking for feedback, but this subtle difference can quickly derail a meeting. "Opening up the floor" can sometimes lead to off-topic conversations that have nothing to do with the subject at hand. Meanwhile, if you're asking for feedback, it's more apparent that you're looking for ideas or suggestions based on the things you just covered.
Not Enough vs. Too Much
You don't hear too many people complaining about meetings that went too short, which means there really is no such thing as "not enough." An agenda on the shorter side can be a good thing if it is well thought-out. However, it is possible to put not enough thought into a meeting, at which point you can't expect it to be productive.
On the other hand, you're not going to move a mountain in one meeting. Too many discussion topics can tire people out and cause them to be distracted. This is more about balance than anything else.
A good meeting agenda is simply one that lists the topics and the time allotted for each. In most cases, it should not contain more than five topics. Remember to identify who needs to be at the meeting, who is doing what (speakers, presenters, etc.), where the meeting is taking place, and what time it needs to start at. With these suggestions you can run more streamlined meetings that are both efficient and productive for those running them as well as those in attendance.
Jason Shah is the founder and CEO of Do, a collaboration platform that helps you run productive meetings.